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‘Sunday’s Children’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 24, 1993

Ingmar Bergman, now 75, may have retired from film directing. But age hasn't stopped the muse or the pen. His script for Bille August's 1992 "The Best Intentions" was a biographical rendering of his parents' early courtship and matrimonial troubles. The story ends in 1918, just before Ingmar Bergman's birth.

"Sunday's Children," Bergman's latest screenplay, which was directed by his son Daniel, is not exactly a sequel. But this autobiographical recollection -- which the filmmaker calls "absolutely true" -- picks up where "Intentions" left off.

In "Children," Henrik and Karin Bergman (Thommy Berggren and Lena Endre), still weathering a strained marriage, have moved into a summer house in the 1920s with their three children (including youngest son Pu, Ingmar Bergman's alter ego) and various relatives.

In this Chekhovian family drama, Pu (Henrik Linnros) will experience many things. He swallows a black worm for older brother Dag (Jacob Leygraf) to prove his courage, join Dag's secret society and earn the equivalent of 75 cents in the bargain. But Dag reneges on the deal, telling Pu that anyone stupid enough to swallow a worm could never be in his club.

Other events take place at a pleasant, episodic pace. Pu thrills to the gruesome story of a watchmaker who committed suicide in the woods. Later, in a visit to the supposed suicide spot, Pu (who is given to such reveries) vividly imagines the dead watchmaker swinging from the noose. Pu also catches a glimpse of young lovers caressing, sees a calf being slaughtered and listens to the muffled squabblings of his parents.

The real story emerges between Pu and his father. The boy worships Henrik, partly because he is the official preacher to Sweden's royalty. But although Henrik returns his son's affection, it's too restricted and tentative to feel like complete warmth. Henrik is also irascible and unpredictable. On a ferry trip, he strikes his son repeatedly across the face for being dangerously close to the water. At this, Pu's feelings for his father become laced with bitterness and fear.

There's little here you haven't seen in other artists' summer reminiscences. But there's something delicate and magical about this particular season, probably because of the knowledge that you are tapping directly into Bergman's childhood. If "The Best Intentions" was a fuller experience, this subtler, more religious interlude -- so obviously meaningful to Bergman -- feels more precious.

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